Review: 500 Clown Trapped (500 Clown & Adventure Stage)

  
  

Getting stuck has never been more fun

  
  

Adrian Danzig, Leah Urzendowski, Timothy Heck - 500 Clown Trapped - photo by Johnny Knight

  
500 Clown and Adventure Stage Chicago presents
   
  
500 Clown Trapped
   
Conceived by Adrian Danzig
Directed by Paola Coletto
at Adventure Stage Chicago, 1012 N. Noble (map)
through May 21  |  tickets: $12-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

Teaming up with Adventure Stage Chicago, 500 Clown brings their acrobatic, improvisational storytelling style to an all-ages audience with 500 Clown Trapped. Conceived by 500 Clown artistic director Adrian Danzig, who also stars as the clown trio’s leader Bruce, Trapped finds its three characters stuck in a variety of situations that require them to use their imaginations, bodies, and comedic skills to escape. The show begins with a requisite educational discussion about music, opening conversation between the clowns and audience. Dialogue and interaction with the audience is a trademark of children’s theatre, and Bruce, Stacy (Tim Heck), and Lily (Leah Urzendowski) are constantly finding ways to make the viewer a player as well, sometimes by just walking out into the audience and turning their seats into the stage.

There’s not much plot to speak of, but the main appeal of the production is the ways the actors bring their characters to bombastic life, engrossing the audience as the clowns become further ensnared on their platform full of hamster paper. Bruce the responsible leader, Stacy the clueless goofball, and Lily the emotional wreck combine Keaton-esque slapstick with impressive acrobatic feats to escape their traps, providing comedic context through jokes and sight gags. The banter is quick and natural, and the movement swift and exaggerated, giving the show a rapid pace perfect for a young audience.

Adrian Danzig - 500 Clown Trapped

500 Clown Trapped is definitely intended for children, but there are plenty of elements that adults will be drawn to. Honestly, who doesn’t love a good pratfall? Lily’s pained rendition of “My Heart Will Go On” elevates the sinking Titanic sequence, while her flirtation with Bruce on a crashing plane elicits giggles for the grown-ups as the kids laugh at the organized chaos. And it is organized. Paola Coletto’s sharp direction has the actors utilizing the entire theater space, and the aerial movement is performed flawlessly. The cast never breaks character, and they are completely comfortable engaging with the audience, projecting a welcoming energy that encourages participation. The clowns are always aware of the audience’s reactions, often responding to the comments of excited children in the middle of a bit without ever breaking the flow. It’s clear that these are skilled improvisers, and they’re able to think quickly on their feet, under ground, or suspended in the air.

500 Clown Trapped is the first collaboration between the city’s premier clown company and one of its largest children’s theaters, and hopefully it’s the start of a fruitful relationship between the two. 500 Clown’s history with more adult material makes their approach to children’s theatre one free of condescension, perfect for parents looking for a fun night of family-friendly theater. It may be light on plot, but the 500 Clown gang definitely brings the laughs, and Trapped is a joyful show for the kid in all of us.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Leah Urzendowski, Timothy Heck, Adrian Danzig in "500 Clown Trapped", conceived by Adrian Danzig. (Photo: Johnny Knight)

All photos by Johnny Knight

  

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REVIEW: Hey! Dancin! (Factory Theatre)

Retro play satirizes modern celebrity

 

hey-dancin

 
Factory Theatre presents
 
Hey! Dancin’!
 
by Kirk Pynchon and Mike Beyer
directed by
Sarah Rose Graber
at
Prop Thtr, 3504 N. Elston (map)
through April 24th (more info)
 
reviewed by Keith Ecker 
 

In 1986, the same year that the Factory Theater’s new play Hey! Dancin’! takes place, I was 5 years old. But just because I was barely old enough to walk doesn’t mean I didn’t know how to dance. I fondly remember shaking it to Prince’s “Batdance” and jiving to the Pointer Sisters’ “Neutron Dance.” Yes, my memory is drenched with visions of DayGlo, high tops and sunglasses at night. The Chicago theatre scene seems to share the same penchant for the Reagan era, churning out no less than three 1980s-themed productions in the last month.

hey-dancin3 But whereas the other two plays—both stage versions of The Breakfast Club (here and here) —are adaptations of a popular movie, Hey! Dancin’! is wholly original. And although leading an audience into unknown territory comes with great risk, the entire cast and crew of Hey! Dancin’! executes the wonderfully written piece close to perfection. The end result is a stunningly entertaining play that evokes genuine laughs while offering insight into our modern perceptions of celebrity.

The play is about a fictitious popular cable access Chicago TV show called “Hey! Dancin’!” Think of it as a poor man’s American Bandstand but with much bigger hair and a much smaller audience. The protagonist, Halle (Melissa Nedell), and her sexually blossoming friend Trisha (Catherine Dughi), are obsessed with the show. The two teenagers squeal when their favorite cast members appear on screen, whom they know on a first-name basis.

“Hey! Dancin’!” is about to wrap up its TV season and the girls decide they desperately need to appear on air. Halle has an urge to meet teenage heartthrob Kenny Kapowski (Jacob A. Ware), who goes by the moniker K.K. Trisha has a much less innocent crush on the show’s older host Randy (Anthony Tournis), whose fashion sense is inspired by Miami Vice.

Meanwhile, the cable access network’s station manager Dennis Blackburn (Noah Simon) is getting phone calls from angry parents that the dance music on “Hey! Dancin’!” is upsettingly too “black.” Instead, he is being urged to play the top white hits of the day, Bon Jovi being the prime example. Randy is on the side of the kids and tries to put his foot down on changing the show’s format.

There is yet another plot line at work, one involving the aforementioned heartthrob K.K. and his on-air/off-air girlfriend Tanya Lacy (Aileen May). Tanya is a demanding diva who fancies herself as the star of “Hey! Dancin’!” She concocts a staged lover’s quarrel for the final show of the season, but her tyrannical attitude is a turnoff to K.K., who may just be looking elsewhere for love—or at least a little dry humping in the supply closet.

Hey! Dancin’! isn’t just a hair-brained ‘80s-inspired comedy. It’s also an effective satire on people’s perceptions of celebrity today. K.K. and his girlfriend Tanya see themselves as the center of the universe because they are on TV.—cable access—but TV nonetheless. Halle and Trisha give this notion weight since they are star-obsessed with these no-name nudniks. Yet as Halle gets to know the real K.K., who admittedly dreams of being famous without actually ever wanting to hone any real talent, the image of these backwoods celebrities begins to crumble.

hey-dancin2 hey-dancin3

Before seeing the play, I was afraid it would suffer from a few obvious pitfalls. First, the concept of a kid’s dance show where the music is “too black” closely parallels the plot of Hairspray. Fortunately, the writers, Kirk Pynchon and Mike Beyer, knew not to make this a central focus. Instead, the show’s possible demise hangs in the background, allowing the characters and their drama to take center stage.

In addition, a show set in 1986 could easily have been overburdened with cliché references. And although the play definitely capitalizes on ‘80s nostalgia, it refrains from being a staged version of VH1’s “I Love the ‘80s.”

The acting is brilliant. The comedic timing of most of the players is impeccable. I’ve seen countless improv, sketch and stand-up shows, and this rivals the best of them. Simon as the recovering alcoholic station manager is a scene-stealer with his Muppet-like voice and general awkwardness.

The show is an hour and 20 minutes long with no intermission, but you won’t be squirming in your seat thanks to Sarah Rose Graber’s directing. She makes sure the play moves along at a fast pace, only slowing down for scenes that demand extra attention, such as the aforementioned supply closet tryst.

Hate them or love them, the 80’s happened. And although that decade continues to be a pox on contemporary society (I’m looking at you MTV), the fact that we now have Hey! Dancin’! almost makes it all worth it.

 
Rating: ★★★½
 

Hey! Dancin’! continues through April 24th, performance on Fridays & Saturdays at 8pm ($20.00), and Sundays 7pm ($15.00). All performances at Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston Ave.

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